A ballet instructor (Patrick Stewart) at Julliard grants an interview to a “grad student” (Carla Gugino) doing research for a dissertation on the history of dance. Accompanied by her husband (Matthew Lillard), the interview takes a bizarre turn when the topic of the dance scene in 1960s New York City and one of its members is raised.
A thoughtful and thought-provoking story based on director/writer Stephen Belber’s play of the same name, Match ponders sexuality, family, career, and the consequences of choices made in the context of these. Somehow, it’s fun to watch Stewart play an aging gay man who keeps a jar full of his fingernail clippings.
Jean-Luc Godard’s adaptation of Fool’s Gold, a 1958 novel by American author Dolores Hitchens. Two bad boys, Franz (Sami Frey) and Arthur (Claude Brasseur) convince Odile (Anna Karina), a pretty but simple classmate in their ESL course, to aid and abet their robbery of her sponsor (Georges Staquet). Beautiful black and white shots of mid-Sixties Paris, old cars and clothes, and an iconic dance scene (not to mention a nine-minute long run-through tour of the Louvre) are big pluses. However, the overall pace was too slow and the plot uninteresting for my post-Modern sensibilities. Godard himself called it his least favorite film of his, so it’s not just me. Whew.
David Koepp’s adaptation of English author Kyril Bonfiglioli’s comic detective novels. The hunt for a lost Goya painting leads a bumbling English art “dealer” (Johnny Depp) and his manservant (Paul Bethany) on a transatlantic adventure. Depp gives more than a nod to Austin Powers in his portrayal of Charles Mortdecai in this silly but fun dope-a-rama that would have made more sense as a summer release. Total fluff.
I had never heard of Vivian Maier. A kooky lady, she was a spinster who bounced around Chicago’s North Shore working as a nanny. Maier was a pack rat and a closet street photographer who took tens of thousands of photos, mostly between the Fifties and Seventies– and apparently filed them away. She died broke and unknown in 2009. A trove of photos and rolls of undeveloped film she shot and left behind was accidentally (or serendipitously) discovered just before being discarded from a storage locker.
The film starts off with her work, which is actually pretty cool. You can see it here:
Next, it explores the artist’s identity through the eyes of those who knew her, mainly her employers and the children she was charged to watch. An unusual and dark character emerges. Very interesting. Maier will forever remain a mystery, but her work speaks for itself.
A small village Russian fisherman (Alexey Serebryakov) spars with a corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov) hellbent on taking his land. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev packs into two hours a ton of melodrama with political and religious undertones. I wish I knew more about Russian history and its current climate because suspect it would have helped me appreciate Leviathan more. Beautifully filmed in drabulous greys and blues, it sure is purty. The audience got on my nerves with their talking and cellphones going off.
Two Days, One Night—that’s all the time factory worker Sandra (Marion Cotillard) has to save her job. On the weekend before her return to work after a leave due to depression, she learns her coworkers are casting votes on Monday to decide her fate—management devised a scheme to eliminate her position. She makes a humiliating sojourn visiting each coworker one by one to persuade them to relinquish their bonuses so she can remain on the payroll. Along the way, Sandra sees the best and worst of humanity, herself, and the impact that one’s choices have on others.
For a simple story, Two Days, One Night is full of suspense and commentary on economics and class. It has a quiet way of keeping one on the edge of his seat.
Julianne Moore is on a roll, and Still Alice keeps her rolling with one woman’s losing battle against a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Taking a more subtle approach to its subject matter, Still Alice is often difficult to watch even if it isn’t heavy-handed. Episodes of Alice, for example, repeating the same conversation to her son’s date at a holiday meal she prepared, getting lost jogging, wetting her pants because she forgets where the bathroom is, and making a video on her laptop instructing her future self, step by step, how how to commit suicide have an increasingly gnawing, foreboding effect as they pile up. The denouement, however, is restrained: the ending is as subtle and quiet as the rest of the film.
Moore is brilliant, taking us with her as both mind and body break down before our very eyes. She gives a wow performance that evokes sympathy and empathy. Still Alice is so clearly her Oscar stab, with a built-in standing ovation– after Alice lectures about memory at a conference and forgets what she was saying. Alec Baldwin as her husband plays an asshole, a role he has perfected. Like the story itself, though, he plays it with a subtle touch. Ironically or not, he’s totally forgettable here. So are her kids (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart, though the last has a few shining moments). A more apt title might have been All About Alice.
Not gratuitously violent as the title might imply. A Most Violent Year is not entirely what I expected, but I liked it. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a gangster who’s not a gangster, runs a “clean” operation selling gas. Someone’s got it in for him, though, and a mystery unfolds slowly and deliberately with a few nail biting turns.
It’s a film that makes one think, and I left trying to define “clean.” A Most Violent Year did an outstanding job capturing without going overboard the look and feel of the really early still-70s 80s– before big hair, funky sunglasses, and shoulder pads. Props to Jessica Chastain, who played Morales’s wife with dead-on Jersey mob daughter fabulousness.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is a total stoner flick. It’s loaded with amusing moments and notable actors—Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short to name a few—having fun with their parts. It’s an entertaining farce—entertaining only to a point, that is.
Unfortunately, the plot meanders with spurts of energy and dead stops, and ultimately fails to go as far as maybe it hoped. The running time—two and a half hours!—does not help. I found myself underwhelmed, though I certainly didn’t hate it. Inherent Vice lost me before it got to the end. I’ve never read anything by Thomas Pynchon, and I’m in no hurry to after seeing this.
With Joanna Newsom, Katherine Waterston, Jordan Christian Hearn, Taylor Bonin, Jeannie Berlin, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Martin Dew, Michael Kenneth Williams, Hong Chau, Shannon Collis, Christopher Allen Nelson, Benicio Del Toro, Catherine Haena Kim, Jena Malone, Vivienne Khaledi, Yvette Yates, Andrew Simpson
Martin Luther King Jr. lived an amazing life, and it would take volumes to cover it. That’s why it was smart of director Ava DuVernay to focus on one key event—the freedom march on Selma—and not MLK’s entire life.
With Selma, DuVernay does a nice job downplaying the legacy and showing MLK as an imperfect man, flaws and fears and all. David Oyelowo lacks MLK’s intensity, but he pulls off the task of portraying the man. Seeing Oprah Winfrey play an unglamorous old lady is a surprise.
I have two issues here. One is technical: Selma looks and feels like a made-for-cable movie. The other issue is treatment: I would have liked the story to go a little deeper. Still, Selma is a film definitely worth its running time; in fact, it could have gone on and I probably would not have noticed.
With Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Jim France, Clay Chappell, Tom Wilkinson, Haviland Stillwell, André Holland, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Colman Domingo, Omar J. Dorsey, Tessa Thompson, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, David Morizot, David Dwyer, E. Roger Mitchell, Dylan Baker, Ledisi Young, Kent Faulcon, Stormy Merriwether, Niecy Nash, Corey Reynolds, Wendell Pierce, John Lavelle, Stephan James, Trai Byers, Lakeith Stanfield, Henry G. Sanders, Charity Jordan, Stan Houston, Tim Roth, Nigel Thatch, Tara Ochs, David Silverman, Charles Saunders, Dexter Tillis, Cuba Gooding Jr.